Rutgers Named Fulbright Top Producer for 12th Year

graduates Annalise Burke, Maegan Sunaz and doctoral student Emmanuel Aprilakis
Rutgers-New Brunswick’s latest Fulbright Fellows include (from l. to r.) Annalise Burke and Maegan Sunaz and doctoral student Emmanuel Aprilakis.

For the 12th consecutive year, Rutgers University-New Brunswick is on The Chronicle of Higher Education’s annual list of Top-Producers of Fulbright U.S. Student Grants, a distinction shared by some of the nation’s most elite institutions.

The designation requires schools to have at least 10 students offered Fulbright Grants, which is no small feat, said Arthur D. Casciato, founding director of the Office of Distinguished Fellowships at Rutgers. This year, Rutgers-New Brunswick tallied 15, which puts the university in prestigious company.

“I am very proud of our incredibly talented Fulbright students and excited for them to be earning these life-shaping opportunities,” Rutgers President Jonathan Holloway said. “To join our esteemed peers in being among the top producers of Fulbright recipients for more than a decade is a remarkable achievement.”

Among the top-producing doctoral institutions of Fulbright U.S. students, only 16 have been on the top-producing list every year for the past 10 years. In addition to Rutgers-New Brunswick, that list includes Arizona State University; Boston College; Brown, Columbia, Georgetown, Harvard, Northwestern, Princeton, Stanford, Villanova and Yale universities; the University of California at Berkeley; University of Chicago; University of Michigan and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Rutgers-New Brunswick’s newest Fulbright recipients include Maegan Sunaz, who graduated in 2020 with a double major in political science and women’s and gender studies through the School of Arts and Sciences. Sunaz credits the university with providing her with both the education and guidance she needed to edge out the competition for this grant.

“This public institution has done so much for me, someone whose parents did not complete four years of college and therefore did not outright know how to navigate higher education,” she said. “Rutgers puts in tremendous effort to lift up its students, so I am more than happy to have a role in helping it obtain this distinction. I am very proud of my alma mater.”

Though her plans to teach English in Indonesia were put on hold because of coronavirus restrictions, Sunaz is looking forward to when she will be able to enjoy her Fulbright experience.

“The success of these inspiring awardees demonstrates how Rutgers-New Brunswick is at the forefront in helping our students to reach their goals, and training the next generation of global leaders,” Rutgers-New Brunswick Chancellor Christopher J. Molloy said. “We applaud them for their outstanding achievements.”

Administered by the Institute of International Education and sponsored by the U.S. Department of State, each of the approximately 2,000 grants issued annually cover the cost of a student’s travel, housing and living expenses for a year in the country where they will be teaching or studying.

“It embraces candidates who possess a wide range of academic interests and professional goals," said Casciato, "and it is exactly Fulbright’s breadth of vision that allows the high level of achievement that Rutgers has consistently enjoyed over the past 12 years.”

The concept was first introduced in a 1945 bill by Sen. J. William Fulbright, who called for the use of surplus war property to fund the “promotion of international good will through the exchange of students in the fields of education, culture and science.” On Aug. 1, 1946, President Harry S. Truman signed the bill into law, and today the Fulbright U.S. Student Program offers research, study and teaching opportunities in over 140 countries to recent graduates and graduate students.  

“Of all the major national awards, the Fulbright is possibly the most life-changing because it allows you to live abroad for a year and gain invaluable life experience,” Casciato said. “Fulbright recipients get to do something they may never do again in a place they might never have visited.”

Rutgers’ Fulbright hot streak started the year after the university created the Office of Distinguished Fellowships, under the direction of Casciato, who has shepherded hundreds of undergraduates through the process of applying for scholarships and grants, including the Fulbright, since his arrival in 2007. In 2020, his office helped 11 undergraduates secure Fulbright grants, which, in combination with the School of Graduate Studies’ four recipients, brought Rutgers-New Brunswick’s total to 15.

Rutgers produced its highest number of recipients in a year in 2013-14, when 26 Rutgers students were awarded Fulbrights, tying for third in the country with Princeton, and behind only Harvard and the University of Michigan. Rutgers was also ranked in the top 10 of the Fulbright top producers in 2014-15 (19 awards, 10th) and again in 2018-19 (23 awards, 9th).

“The secret of our success is that there is no secret,” said Casciato. “We’ve simply made it our business to send forward many more candidates than ever before in the university’s history, and the excellence of a Rutgers education takes care of the rest.”

This year’s Fulbright recipients also include Annalise Burke, who graduated in May 2020 with a dual major in public policy and Korean language from Rutgers-New Brunswick’s School of Arts and Sciences. As a junior Burke, 22, was awarded a Critical Language Scholarship to study in South Korea. Now and as a Fulbright Fellow, she is currently teaching English in South Korea, an experience she said has been intense, given she is among the first cohort to begin in the middle of the pandemic.

“However, I think this is reflective of our role as Fulbrighters, in that we should strive to educate, connect with, and protect our host communities all at once,” said Burke. “I feel very thankful that despite the current global situation, I was given the opportunity to represent my home state Idaho, Rutgers and the United States while teaching English in Korea.”

Other grant recipients were forced to put their international trips on hold this year because of COVID-19 restrictions. That includes School of Graduate Studies student Emmanuel Aprilakis, a classics Ph.D. candidate who earned the Bulgaria-Greece Fulbright Joint Research Award.

Once travel restrictions are lifted, Aprilakis looks forward to touring ancient theater spaces throughout Greece and Bulgaria. He will be based at the American School of Classical Studies at Athens while in Greece and affiliated with both Sofia University and New Bulgarian University while in Bulgaria. 

“This grant affords me the opportunity to continue my research of ancient theater spaces across the Mediterranean, and I am particularly excited that the insights gained will shed valuable light also on my dissertation writing and future teaching,” he said.

In the 12 consecutive years Rutgers has been among the top-producing Fulbright schools, 193 students have been recognized with the honor, out of 1,118 candidates sent forth for consideration. By comparison, in the first 63 years of the Fulbright U.S. Student Grant program (1946-2009), 99 Rutgers students were selected for the award.

“Rutgers could always claim the quality of students and faculty it takes to be a major player in the competition for an award as prestigious as the Fulbright,” said Casciato. “But without an office dedicated solely to helping students apply for it, it was difficult to realize that potential.”

Rutgers-New Brunswick Undergraduate Recipients

  • Annalise Burke, Public Policy and Korean, School of Arts and Sciences, 2020 (South Korea)
  • Leigh Mueller, Language Education, Graduate School of Education, 2020 (Taiwan)
  • Ezekiel Medina, Public Health and Latino and Caribbean Studies, School of Arts and Sciences, 2020 (Argentina)
  • Maegan Sunaz, Political Science and Women’s and Gender Studies, School of Arts and Sciences, 2017 (Indonesia)
  • Kathryn Slusarczyk, Korean and Linguistics, School of Arts and Sciences, 2020 (South Korea)
  • Elena Wei, Cell Biology and Neuroscience, School of Arts and Sciences, 2020 (Colombia)
  • Ian Stuart, German, School of Arts and Sciences, 2019 (Germany)
  • Megan Stanton, German, School of Arts and Sciences, 2020 (Germany)
  • Mansi Shah, Cell Biology and Neuroscience, School of Arts and Sciences, 2020 (Spain)
  • Breana Stevens, Public Policy, Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, 2020 (Spain)
  • Giovanna Sartorio, German, School of Arts and Sciences, 2020 (Germany)

School of Graduate Studies Recipients

  • William Aguado, Anthropology, School of Arts and Sciences, Study/Research Award, Open Study/Research Award (Indonesia)
  • Emmanuel Aprilakis, Classics, School of Arts and Sciences, Study/Research Award, Fulbright Bulgaria-Greece Joint Research Award (Greece/Bulgaria)      
  • Alison Hight, History, School of Arts and Sciences, Study/Research Award, Fulbright/Global Wales Visiting Student Researcher Award (United Kingdom)

Post-Baccalaureate Certificate Program

  • Rohit Mukherjee, School of Public Health, Study/Research Award, Open Study/Research Award (Ghana)